By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian Apostolic Church condemned on Monday the weekend wave of bomb attacks on an Armenian Catholic church and four other Christian worship sites in Iraq that left 11 people dead and more than 50 others wounded.
The church’s governing Mother See in Echmiadzin, southern Armenia, said although none of its churches and other property in Iraq was targeted in the apparently coordinated series of explosions on Sunday, it is deeply saddened by the loss of life.
“The Armenian Apostolic Holy Church expresses her sympathies to the families of the victims and all Iraqi people, and wishes complete recovery to the wounded and injured,” the office of Catholicos Garegin II said in a statement. “We pray that the centuries of friendship and peaceful
co-existence among Christian and Muslim peoples in the East will not be endangered by similar condemnable violence; for peace to be re-established in the region; and that the Iraqi people continue with the creation of their safe and progressing lives.”
The car bombings first hit a church in Baghdad’s upscale Karada district belonging to ethnic Armenian adherents of the Roman Catholic Church, a small minority among the Armenians scattered around the world. The blast occurred shortly after the start of the evening prayer service attended by dozens of believers. Reports from the Iraqi capital said it inflicted substantial damage on the church’s back wall.
But there was no word on whether there were any Armenians among the dead. “I saw injured women and children and men, the church's glass shattered everywhere,” Juliette Agob, a woman who was inside the Armenian church during the first explosion, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.
The unprecedented attacks, blamed by the United States on Al-Qaeda militants, drew strong condemnations from Iraq’s interim government and Muslim leaders as well as foreign governments. The Vatican called them “terrible and worrisome.”
The attacks also marked a new twist in the Iraqi insurgency against the U.S.-led occupation force, raising concerns about the security of the country’s 750,000-member Christian minority. Between 20,000 and 30,000 of them are believed to be ethnic Armenians. Many of them are merchants, doctors, engineers, goldsmiths, and other middle-class professionals.
The Armenian community, which is mainly affiliated with the ancient Apostolic Church, is reportedly keeping a low profile in an effort to survive chaos and socioeconomic hardships that have engulfed Iraq since last year’s overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Community leaders told an RFE/RL correspondent in Baghdad early last month that they are avoiding any involvement in the country’s sectarian politics for security reasons. They also complained about a lack of material and moral support from the government of Armenia.
Concern for the security of the Iraqi Armenians is one of the stated reasons for official Yerevan’s plans join the U.S.-led “coalition of the willing” with a small unit of army doctors, demining experts and military truck drivers. Yet ironically, the upcoming dispatch of the non-combat military personnel might only put them at greater risk of attack by Islamist militants fighting against the U.S. occupation.
Sunday’s church bombings are seen by many as a sign that the Christian minority is now considered an enemy collaborator by at least some of the insurgents. In addition, the latter regularly abduct foreign nationals to try to blackmail their governments into withdrawing their forces from Iraq.
The Armenian government indicated last week that it is undaunted by the grave security situation when it formally authorized its military to sign an agreement regulating the U.S.-led forces in Iraq. The Armenian deployment could begin as early as next month.
(GI-Photolur photo: Black smoke billowing skyward from behind the Armenain Catholic church in Baghdad on Sunday.)